Nightly News   |  February 03, 2010

Greening the urban jungle

Transforming her South Bronx neighborhood from urban wasteland into an urban oasis, environmental activist Majora Carter has become an unstoppable force in the green movement. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: As you may know, we're featuring some extraordinary Americans in our Black History Month series here this week, a project we're conducting with our partner Web site thegrio.com, which has put together a list of 100 Remarkable People . Tonight the story of a woman who had an idea for going green long before it was fashionable or even called that. Her work is all the more notable considering where she's doing it: in the single poorest congressional district in the United States . Her story from our chief environmental affairs correspondent Ann Thompson .

Ms. MAJORA CARTER: People need to start thinking more about that.

ANN THOMPSON reporting: Majora Carter is a force of nature...

Ms. CARTER: There's enough space. You had to reach across different types...

THOMPSON: ...for people whose access to nature is all too often polluted or paved over.

Ms. CARTER: Environmental justice is a principle that no community should have to bear the brunt of. Lots of environmental burdens and not enjoy some environmental benefits.

THOMPSON: Carter says the crusade to green America 's gritty inner cities is the 21st century 's civil rights movement, and in it she's a multi-media activist...

THOMPSON: ...taking her message from coast to coast.

Ms. CARTER: You know, people will look at me and go, `But you're not white and you're not male, and you're not old.' I'm like, `No, I'm not.' But like everybody else on the planet, I'm a part of this environment and I want to make sure that we're doing some great things that can be supportive of everybody in it.

THOMPSON: It began by accident. Dragged to the Bronx River by her dog, she saw promise in an industrial wasteland . When you said, `I see a park here,' did people think you were crazy?

Ms. CARTER: Yes, in a word. They did.

THOMPSON: She got a grant, organized the community, and together, they built a park, the first step in what she hopes will be an 11-mile greenway. What difference has this park made?

Ms. CARTER: Oh, the difference the park made is that it's shown people that we can see ourselves in a different way.

THOMPSON: Carter 's vision has spread to nearby streets.

Ms. EVA SANJURJO (South Bronx Resident): She has brought a lot of respect into our community. And I love her for that. I really do.

THOMPSON: And Carter 's brought green jobs and a training program. Wayne Lee is a graduate and now an instructor.

Mr. WAYNE LEE: I heard about this woman who founded this amazing organization and I was just like, you know, `How can I be a part of that?'

THOMPSON: The South Bronx , where Carter grew up and got married, is the springboard for her national consulting firm . I read 70,000 vacant lots in Detroit ?

Ms. CARTER: Yeah, I understand like 50 square miles and growing.

THOMPSON: But in the barren lots Carter sees potential for bounty. She's working to create a national brand of locally grown urban produce.

Ms. CARTER: The better your food is, the better quality is, the healthier you're going to be and the healthier every thing around you is going to be.

THOMPSON: Ideas that can sprout fresh food, jobs and hope.

Ms. CARTER: What we're asking folks to do is to think big , beyond what they ever thought they could possibly do, and understand that they've always had the power to do it.

THOMPSON: Majora Carter , a big thinker, tapping the most sustainable power of all, the human spirit . Ann Thompson , NBC News , New York .